Fitness: Traditional vs. Functional

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By Lisa Leath Turpin, Health & Wellness Coach

Many of you set New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get healthier. Through diets, cleanses and exercise, some are well on their way to success.

Is this you? If it is, you’re probably ready to: A) bump it up a notch, or B) freshen and change things up to keep it interesting. If this is not you, and you’ve struggled with what to do, read on, because the following should help either way—and it’s never too late to start.
We’ve all heard of weight training or lifting weights to gain strength and increase muscle size. Traditionally, athletes, body builders and power lifters have used machines, dumbbells and various bars to focus on targeting and isolating certain muscles individually to create size and optimal change to that single muscle. They work in very specific rep ranges and repeated sets. This is now coined, Traditional Fitness Training.

But, fairly recently, the buzz word, Functional Fitness Training, came about and many became confused. The differences between the two are their goals and outcomes. Where traditional fitness focuses on the single muscle dynamically, functional fitness focuses on movements that help prepare the body for everyday life activities. Functional exercises are compound, multi-joint combinations that when done frequently, will create synergy, balance and coordination for overall body strength. So, functional training focuses on the body as a whole, instead of focusing on any single muscle alone. Examples of traditional training would be resistance exercises, such as arm curls, leg presses, dip machines, bench press, lat pulldowns, etc. Examples of functional training would be body-weight movements such as pushups, planks, squats, lunges, power movements or using an apparatus such as battle ropes, kettle bells, medicine balls, etc. Push, pull, twist, bend and balance are concepts used in functional training. It’s about movement and developing core muscles and muscle movement balance. Pilates and Yoga are great examples of functional training.

Both functional and traditional expend calories; both strengthen muscles, so which is better? It depends on your goals, but I feel that both are important and both should be incorporated to create a balanced exercise regime. This is called cross training (not to be confused with CrossFit, which is a franchise). Cross training means to change up your training styles so that you get benefits from a mixture of modalities to become well-rounded. Cross training is commonly used in cardio fitness to keep your workouts challenging and more interesting. Rotating through running, biking, swimming or rowing, for example, will ultimately burn more calories and minimize overuse injuries one gets from performing the same motion over and over again.

When I was studying Exercise Science in college, the term “functional training” didn’t exist. We used the term, “sports specific training,” which meant you use certain exercises that mimic and will enhance/train an athlete for THEIR sport. You train a line-backer differently than you train a gymnast; and you train a gymnast differently than a swimmer. So, in the same way, functional training is for everyday “lifestyle athletes” such as moms, dads, teachers, carpenters, fishermen, etc. If you lifestyle athletes cross train the two methods, traditional training will develop more strength in each muscle and then functional training will teach those muscles how to use that strength more fluidly and precisely. In doing this, your body will be more prepared and less caught off guard when life throws a curve ball.
My advice? Mix it up, be active and enjoy life more!

Do you want a personal trainer or have a fitness question for Lisa? Email Lisa Leath Turpin is a degreed and certified health and fitness lifestyle coach and consultant who has devoted her life to motivating and strengthening the body and mind of others. With almost 30 years’ experience, Lisa has a B.S. degree in Sports & Fitness Management from the University of Alabama, developed and managed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Health & Wellness Facility and programs in Huntsville, Ala., is board certified by the National Board of Fitness Examiners and possesses certifications from AFAA, Polestar/Balanced Body, Reebok U, SCW Fitness and American Heart Association. She is currently a group exercise leader at Destin Health & Fitness and an independent personal trainer in the Destin area, diversely and extensively trained in classical and modern Pilates, lifestyle management, personal training, group exercise and post-rehabilitation.

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